Accounting students learn through role play with actor Nick Bailey

The British media called it “the beast from the East” but this did not put off our 200-plus MSc International Accounting and Finance students who all braved the weather to participate in an exceptional learning experience – two role-play workshops where they got to live out the dilemmas and hard ethical choices that will confront them in their future careers.

The workshops were designed and led by the distinguished actor and former Birmingham MBA student, Nick Bailey, in close collaboration with the module team as an integral and crucial feature of Professional Integrity and the Reflective Practitioner, a new and compulsory Professional Ethics module we introduced into the MSc this year. A key focus of the module is to engage students in developing theoretical understanding and insight while confronting real life episodes and events which show what can so easily go wrong in contemporary business, and how often black and white scenarios turn out to be grey.  

MSc International Accounting & Finance role-play with Nick Bailey

The role-play experience began on Thursday 1 March, when actor Nick Bailey used the weekly two-hour lecture slot to introduce the students to the role play technique and demonstrate its value in enabling us to appreciate just how difficult business situations can be, and show how complex the conflicts can be between your personal and professional values. Then on the Friday, the cohort divided in half and attended one of the two 3-hour workshops. Here, working in groups of three, they had to take on one of three specified roles in a given complex situation, and act out the dilemmas it posed to reach a particular outcome. Then everyone changed roles and re-enacted the dilemma, this time working towards a different outcome; and after each role play, students had to write down their reflections on what they had felt playing their role and how they felt about themselves afterwards.

The final dilemma involved each group in having to brief the CEO of a major oil company who has to go out and face the world’s media the morning after a major oil rig disaster, and having to decide how much to play up or down the extent of the potential environmental pollution. So our students got to experience how hard it is to decide what and how much to say in such situations, and to think through the possible consequences of both saying too much and not saying enough. The experience was intense; the students engaged brilliantly in playing the contrasting roles assigned to them; and each three hour session flew past just so fast: snow or no snow!

MSc International Accounting & Finance role-play with Nick Bailey

It’s as much about practice as theory!

The workshops were a particular highlight in our approach of working intensively together with our students to merge theory and practice and have fun at the same time. We have been very fortunate across the module in being able to bring in a number of high-level professionals and graduates of the University, including senior managers from the Energy Systems Catapult and Halifax, and have them share their highs and lows as professionals, both before and since the financial crisis of 2008.

This has been our ambition from the outset in the design of the Professional Integrity and the Reflective Practitioner module. We are constantly trying out ways of creating a different and stimulating approach to engage students in ethical dilemmas and help them experience what it is to act reflectively in business. We have developed a blend of theorising, conceptualising, reflecting and confronting real-life experiences and dilemmas. As a result we have learned a great deal about the best means to engage students and draw in and on both our alumni and our local business community.

We have one more workshop yet to come where students and staff are going to the Aston Villa Football Ground, where together with senior Aston Villa management the students will explore the current and future growth possibilities of ‘sustainable football’. And finally, to complete the module, the students will have a public poster session which is open to all, on 23 March from 16.00 to 19.00, where groups will display and be ready to discuss their research into an ethical issue of their choice.

MSc International Accounting & Finance role-play with Nick Bailey


Dr Ann-Christine Frandsen – Module Leader, said

“My colleague Dr Wafa Ben Khaled and I are so grateful to all those who made our role-play event so memorable. In particular we thank Andrew Miles for putting so much work and enthusiasm into making the event happen, including managing a last-minute venue crisis which worked out brilliantly: and of course Nick Bailey, who was not only our star actor, but gave so much time and commitment in advance, discussing and planning and then delivering the event as the fantastic success that it was. Thank you both so much! But of course the people who really made the event a success were our students. My message to them is: you were amazing!”

So finally, when Ann-Christine and her army of students left at 7pm that Friday, stepping out to find the snow storm in full swing, the streets almost empty, and the roads snow-covered, everyone felt an amazing sense of achievement, team-spirit and, dare we say it, a real sense of drama! Everyone had smiles on their faces. How could it be any better than this?


Learn more about the MSc International Accounting and Finance programme